Opening Remarks

by Madeleine K. Albright at the First Seminar on NATO's Strategic Concept 'NATO’s Fundamental Security Tasks ' held in Luxembourg

  • 16 Oct. 2009
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  • Last updated: 16 Oct. 2009 18:19

Remarks from the Chair of the Group of Experts, Madeleine Albright

Good morning.  It’s wonderful to see so many friends – and I want to thank Foreign Minister Asselborn for his hospitality in hosting our seminar today.

As Ambassador Bisogniero has made clear, it is our task to begin laying the groundwork for NATO’s revised strategic concept.

I’m sure you would agree, this is no small job.

For sixty years, NATO has been the world’s leading multinational security institution.

Forged in the wake of global war, it has labored with historic success to prevent a recurrence of war – not by accommodating aggression but by defending freedom and upholding the rule of law.

Throughout this period, we’ve had cause to be grateful that those who drafted the North Atlantic Treaty were blessed with wisdom and foresight.

We remain in need of both qualities.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of experience in this hall, and I look forward to a truly productive day.

Although this is the first of four seminars, it is less a beginning than a continuation, like starting a new chapter in a long book.

Commentators have been debating the appropriate roles and missions for NATO since its founding, which partly explains why our alliance has evolved steadily over the years.

We are here today because of a desire on the part of our leaders to take stock of where that process has brought us; and to explore the need for further adjustments as time goes on.

Our speakers today will each bring to the table their own ideas--and it will be our responsibility to receive them without preconceptions.

If our seminars are to serve their purpose, we must all be as good at listening as we are at trying to get across our own points of view.

At the same time, frankness is more of an asset than reticence. 

If disagreements exist – and I know they do – we should bring them out in the open where they can benefit from a free exchange of views. 

It would be a mistake for us to paper over our differences – whether out of courtesy or diplomacy.

Were that to happen, we might end up agreeing on a set of principles that would be accepted by all but helpful to none.

A polite but false consensus is no friend to NATO, because such a consensus would fall apart the first time it is really tested.

The value of a revised strategic concept will not be found in its theoretical brilliance, but in whether it provides practical answers to some inescapable questions.

For example, does it take into account the full spectrum of dangers alliance members will face?

Does it provide the basis for timely and unified action in response to the highest priority threats?

Does it establish a workable balance between traditional and nontraditional missions?

Does it clarify the scope and meaning of collective self-defense?

Does it instill confidence that every ally will be heard and that each will pull its full weight?

And does it ensure that NATO’s resources are sufficient to meet NATO’s responsibilities?

In reflecting on these questions, we must recognize that a strategic concept is, by definition, a forward looking document.

Although there can be value in discussing immediate challenges, the heart of our mandate is to focus on the longer term. 

We must ask ourselves what NATO should look like and how it should be operating five or ten years from now.

We might also want to consider three additional points.

First, a strategic concept need not, and in fact should not, be confused with an encyclopedia. 

Our purpose is to keep the alliance pointed in the right direction, not to raise expectations that it can move in twelve directions at once. 

To this end, we should remember that although NATO stands tall, it does not stand alone.

The alliance is part of a broader system working on problems of peace, justice, development and humanitarian response.

Accordingly, we should draw a distinction between what NATO must do and what others can do – and between situations where the alliance must act on its own and  where a team approach is preferable.

Second, in thinking about a revised strategic concept, we should pay proper respect to the thinking that has already been done. 

Much has changed since 1999, but not everything has changed. 

In fact, the vast majority of the language we approved a decade ago still applies. 

We declared then that:

  • Our alliance would continue even in the absence of the Warsaw Pact. 
  • It would remain open to qualified new members. 
  • It would consider missions that respond to dangers arising outside the North Atlantic region. 
  • And it would work with others to counter global threats, such as terrorism and proliferation. 

These answers reflected our views then and do not need to be reinvented now.

The house that we call NATO may require fresh paint, a new alarm system, and some additional rooms, but there is much in the structure that works, and the foundation is fine. 

We are not called upon to tear the building down in order to save it.

Finally, we should recognize that, although a strategic concept is an internal document, this particular document will also have a substantial external effect.

We cannot simply assume that NATO’s intentions will be understood correctly, especially in parts of the world that have hostile or mixed feelings toward the West.

We must be prepared to explain our vision of NATO’s role in ways that are persuasive to audiences across the globe.

In so doing, we must accept that there are limits to what NATO can accomplish and also to what we should attempt; we are a regionally-based security alliance and cannot be all things to all people. 

At the same time, we must not shy away from hard jobs, because NATO was not created to do easy ones.

We must ask ourselves how much more fragile the future would be if NATO were unable to cope with the gravest threats.

Because if NATO isn’t prepared to respond to 21st century dangers, who will be?

In closing, I want to thank everyone for coming and also to introduce a note of optimism.

It’s true that we are here because our leaders see the need for change in how NATO is organized and how it operates.

Not every mission is going smoothly and not every NATO member is pleased with the flow of events.

Without question, our alliance is being tested.

But it’s also true that NATO has confronted and overcome even graver perils in the past.

The need to adapt can be painful, but the power to make necessary changes is in our hands.

Within NATO today, the sources of division are still far outweighed by the evidence of solidarity.

Even more important, the principles that brought our alliance together and that have attracted more members over time – the principles of freedom and a commitment to peace -- have not lost their power to persuade, unite, and inspire.

That is an enormous source of strength and reason for continued confidence – even as we contend with the difficult questions that will be at the center of our discussions today.

Have no doubt, NATO has been; it is; and it will remain the most important and successful alliance on the face of the globe.     Thank you.